Skip to content

Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #126: Moving From Soloist to Conductor: A Leader’s First Challenge

March 4, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #126: Moving From Soloist to Conductor: A Leader’s First Challenge

One of the first shifts a leader needs to make is the shift from being a soloist to being the conductor of the orchestra. It’s easy to want to hang on to your individual contributor mindset and try to become super-soloist instead of taking the lead. Today, Chris and Perry discuss some ideas for making the move from soloist to conductor.

Want to enhance your organization’s leadership culture? Learn more about our 5 Levels of Leadership private workshops HERE – Offered virtually and on-site to meet your organization’s health guidelines.

Download our Learning Guide for this podcast!

Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I am Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     I’m Chris Goede, vice president with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us once again. If this is your first time with us, I just want to give you a heads-up. If you want to learn more about really the content and the principles and what started this podcast and what we have the ability to do in partner with organizations around the world in regards to their culture and leadership development, I’d love for you to visit We’re doing a lot of that virtually now, which is great. A lot of us being at home. We still have some issues even with our internal team meetings, and we just kind of laughed it off. Or if you want to download a learner’s guide that Perry has created for the episode today, you can do that there.

I’m excited about where we’re going in this series, because John writes a book a year, and there are several that just kind of stick out to me. And you and I play in the corporate space every day, helping organizations around the world, and some, I think, align with that more than others. And the book that we’re going to cover some of the lessons we took out of really aligns with leaders that are leading teams and people and organization, and it comes from his book, Leadershift. Yes, I had an F in there. And if Perry and I get excited, you may think you’ve heard something. Don’t rewind it. Just keep going. But I love what you did, because we’re really talking about leadership culture and what are a couple of the shifts that leaders, that we need to make in order to really enhance and build that leadership culture inside our organization. So looking forward to not only this episode but the next couple as we go through that.

But today’s topic, and then I’m going to throw it to you just to kind of set the stage on how you got here, is moving from soloist to conductor, a leader’s first challenge.

Perry Holley:    It really is your first challenge when you get that promotion. You’ve worked hard for that. And as you said, John talks about these shifts we need to make that he made over his career. And usually the first shift you have to make is the mindset of moving from being an individual contributor… Picture it. He called it soloist. I’m picturing a violinist, a soloist in the orchestra, to being promoted to be the conductor of the orchestra. It’s what you were working for. It’s what you aspired to be. You got that promotion, and now you struggle with making that leap. What we see and we talk about, and a reason I picked these ones we’re going to talk about, these are things I hear on the coaching calls that we do. I hear a lot of people talk about this, really tempted instead of becoming soloist to a conductor, I’ll just be super soloist and not take over the lead of the whole orchestra. So that’s where that’s coming from.

Chris Goede:     Well, and let me just set everybody at ease. First of all, Perry nor I will do any type of solo musically on this podcast. You would not want that. Now, Jake… Maybe Jake. because he is a musician.

Here’s what I love about what you just said. We’re bringing real-time discussions, thoughts, applications to this podcast. It is what you’re hearing real-time with our coaching partners, with the organizations that we’re partnering with around the world. And I think a lot of leaders get benefit out of this, because we try to keep it short, to the point. And this is stuff that’s going on right now. And I think around this topic, for me, I know that I hear it quite a bit as well. And even me personally as a leader, sometimes I’m just like, “I can do more. I can sing louder,” back to your point. “We can play louder. We can work as a soloist.” And so I know you have some ideas, because as leaders, men and women, we tend to default to that and just think that, well, if we sing a little bit louder, we do this… Versus the conductor mindset. So you have a couple of ideas you want to take us through.

To be a Successful Leader, You Need Feedback on Your Leadership.

We’re excited to announce our new and improved Organizational Effectiveness Survey (OES). The OES gathers feedback from employees to give leaders and management the knowledge and action plans needed to develop a more effective and productive work environment. Our new version measures 4 areas of your business: Leadership, People, Strategy, and Performance. 

Perry Holley:    I hate to admit it, but I got these from what I had to figure out. And then as I read when John wrote, I go, “Oh my gosh, yes. This was my struggle as well.” Probably the number one thing that I had to do was go from thinking about myself… If you think you’re a soloist in an orchestra, you’re focused on what you do. You’re focused on your notes, you part of the composition. And so the conductor is really more others-oriented, more thinking about the whole. And I found for me that leadership was… At first, it felt like it was about me. I got promoted. I’m I’m the boss. But it’s really not about me. It’s about you. It’s about the people. And it’s easy to think, when I’m responsible for the outcome and I’m responsible for where we’re going, it’s about me, but no, I’m not going to get there without your help. So having that little mind shift thinking, shift in thinking to say, “It’s really about the group now. It’s not about me.”

Chris Goede:     Yeah. It reminds me of a couple of quotes that John, we’ve all heard him say, where, “If it’s lonely at the top, then you might not be leading.” Or the one where he says, “Hey, if you’re out in front and you’re leading, you turn around and you’re on a walk and no one’s following you, you’re just on a walk. You’re not leading anybody.” And what I love about what you’re talking about, where we’re going is that you need others. And we have to have that focus. We have to, as a leader, make sure that we get them moving in the direction that we want them to go and get them to where we’re going for outcomes. That’s our responsibility. But you cannot do it alone. You can’t be, in this orchestra setting that we’re talking about, you can’t just be a soloist overpowering the orchestra. You won’t be able to accomplish what you’re trying to unless everybody’s involved.

Perry Holley:    The next level is not just realizing it’s others-oriented, but you’ve got to understand the others. I’m thinking about being that soloist again. I understand my part. I understand the composition, where I fit, what my role is. But as the conductor, the conductor looks out and sees the strengths of everyone. He or she has to pull those things together. And that orchestra, the conductor is looking at the desires, the talents, the contributions, the skills, even the weaknesses of the team to bring it together to have the best sounding composition possible. And if I’m just thinking about me, I don’t understand the people that are around me, I’m not going to be able to pull on those strengths and weaknesses.

Chris Goede:     That’s why I love, going back to this common language and the model of everything that we build off of when it comes to setting the expectation of leadership culture in an organization, is John’s methodology of The 5 Levels of Leadership. And this so clearly just screams to me that an individual contributor, a soloist, is at level one. And John says, “That’s great. We all start there.” It’s probably where you’re able to play the violin, to your point, really well by herself. But to be part of the orchestra, we got to go to the next level, and we got to begin to connect with those that are in the orchestra. As a conductor, we need to understand that we don’t have to have relationships with everybody, although that’s key, but we’ve got to understand. We’ve got to connect with them. We’ve got to understand, what is it that they do well? And help them develop that. And by doing that, you begin to understand and connect with everybody and be able to create that musical piece that Jake could probably explain better than you and I.

Perry Holley:    I’m glad you’re going with the metaphor .

Chris Goede:     I’m in it. Yes, I am.

Perry Holley:    I totally agree about the common language of leadership. That is so important. And I think another thing, as I think about… I know it’s about the others. I’m learning and understanding who they are, strengths and weaknesses. Am I okay… Do I have a mindset that’s okay for wanting them to shine brighter than me? And I go back to the soloist. So I’m the conductor, I’ve got this outstanding violinist soloist here, and they’re going to get,, when the curtain goes down, they’re going to get all the, “Wow, that violinist was so great.” Am I okay with that as a conductor?

And I have to tell you, when I first became a first-line manager, I had been a star salesman. I got promoted. Every year at the awards thing. It was always about me getting the awards and all that. And all of a sudden I’m at the awards thing, and my people are getting the awards, and I’m recognized as a winning team, but the individual… I’m not getting that individual. And am I okay with that? I said, “Yes. As an orchestra leader, I want to see my orchestra win.” Am I okay with me getting the spotlight, letting the spotlight fall on them?

Chris Goede:     But that’s a fair question, because most of us get promotions because we were successful as an individual contributor at some point in time, and so I think that’s a fair analogy. We all have to deal with that. You’re vulnerable in sharing that story, but I think all of us have to figure that out, because as you progress through the ranks, it’s probably because at some point in time you were very successful as an individual contributor.

Perry Holley:    But you know what? As I’m thinking back as you’re saying that, I got better and better at that, almost to the point where it was more fun for me. I knew I was going to get mine. I’m getting awarded. I’m getting compensated. My boss has acknowledged that I’m making a difference. But I had fun promoting others to the spotlight and watching them shine, because you know what? We talked about momentum at level three, about building that positive momentum, how it’s fun to be on this team. It’s fun to win. We work together to do hard things. The more I could bring them into the spotlight, it brought an energy that I can sit back and smile now thinking about it. We made a lot of fun out of it, a game almost, of enjoying working together. But if I’m shining all that on me, it’s not that joyous for other people, I’ve noticed.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, and at level three in the 5 Levels, that’s what we talk about. It’s what you have done personally but in and through your team that you begin to gain leadership credibility, and I think that’s so important. And so as you begin to think about this, the illustration of the soloist to the conductor, I just want to encourage a couple things that we have here for… You should have a mindset, a shift of, “How do I set others up for success? How do I learn from their strengths and their weaknesses? How do I help them learn their strengths and weaknesses?” I love this one right here, which is, you got to see the potential in each person. That conductor can see exactly why the fourth chair or whatever in a certain situation adds value to the overall orchestra.

And then, this goes back to what you were just talking about, what you thoroughly enjoyed, is you got to honor them in front of others for the work that they’re doing. And here’s what I would encourage you to do, is I want you to put yourself in your shoes back when you were making your way through the ranks and you were an individual contributor, and what it felt like when your leader did that, or maybe when they didn’t. Not everybody has been led well. And so I want you to have that thought process, because as you grow in your leadership, you need to learn from that and do that in order to get the buy-in from your team.Perry Holley:    Those things you list are not things that a normal individual contributor would do. These are really leader things. And as you’re talking, I’m thinking about another thing that great conductors do that’s a little out of the ordinary for an individual contributor. The soloist would never do this. The orchestra leader looks for ways to make the soloist better. I’m thinking maybe level four-ish type of things here. How do I develop? Can I see things add value? Can I give feedback? Do I coach? What is it I do to make that soloist even a better soloist?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And the thought I just had was, may not even be better necessarily for the soloist’s performance as a solo, but it will be better performance for the orchestra as a whole, when they’re able to kind of take that in that. And I love what you said. John wrote a book, The Leader’s Greatest Return. And part of that process is just making sure that we focus on finding ways to help the team grow and improve in the skillset that they’ve already been gifted. They they’ve come to you. You got to improve the skillset, but they’ve come to you already with a skillset. What are you doing on a daily basis to figure out how to help them grow in their area of expertise?

Perry Holley:    The bottom line to me is that if you want to be this kind of leader that others want to be associated… I don’t have to follow you. I want to be a part of your team. I want to be in your orchestra. Then you really got to move from me to we, as we said, got to focus on others. You’re really moving from receiving to giving. I may not get the spotlight, but I’m going to give the spotlight to others. I’m moving from producing on an individual level to helping others produce and be better. And I think when I think of that, that shift that John mentions is really critical. That’s why I call it your first leadership move, is to move away from this thinking that it’s all about me. It’s not. It’s about the team now. And I’ve got to act differently to draw the best out of others.

Chris Goede:     Well, as I wrap up, I want to give you some application to what we just talked about. Perry and I were just talking before the podcast about different leadership principles, and oftentimes they come across as very simple, but we don’t take action. We don’t apply them to our lives. And this is the same thing right here. “Oh, I get it. This whole list, where we’re going, the conductor, orchestra. Yeah.” So let me give you some things that I was just thinking about while you were talking.

Inside the John Maxwell Company a couple years ago, when John released this book, our internal team did case studies. And we asked for different volunteers at each one of the shifts, some that we’re going to cover over the next couple of episodes, to share their personal story of what that shift meant to them and to give an example of that. And I want to challenge you that, whether it’s in your next one-on-one meeting, whether it’s a team meeting, if you came into the room and you wrote those two words on the board, the soloist to conductor, and you began to have a conversation about the individuals in the room, where do they feel like they’re playing? As a team in, regards to the organization, where do you feel like your team is in the bigger picture? And you gave him those word pictures, as we’ll call them, and began to have a conversation, I think it’d be a fascinating conversation to really find out what’s going on. And then if you’re in a place, and I want to challenge you to do this, to ask them, again, one-on-one or in a team, say, “Where do you think I play? Do you think I am more of a soloist? Or am I more of a conductor? And what can I do to move to more of a conductor?” Because I think that’s pivotal.

I want you to have the mindset and continue to strive to bring out the best in everyone on your team or in your circle of influence. You don’t have to have direct reports. But this is so key in developing your leadership culture. And you’re going to be proud of me, because in preparation, because Perry does all of the design and the work and the content, and I went and I looked up the definition of a conductor. Isn’t this good? Aren’t you proud of me? No, I don’t want to write next week’s podcast, but I have some content for you. And I want you to listen to this. It said the primary responsibility of a conductor is to unify performance, set tempo, execute preparations and beats, listen critically, and shape the sound of the ensemble and to control the interpretation and pacing of the music. To me, that sounds like a leader. I underlined a couple words, unify, set the tempo, execute, listen critically, and then shape. And I thought, “My goodness, man, that’s really good. I’m bringing this home with a definition.” And so when I think about that as a conductor, I think it’s a great conversation for us as leaders. You follow those words.

Again, my challenge to you is to ask that question one-on-one, not only of them and where they feel like they’re playing, but them of you, and then do it in a team environment. I think you’ll have a fascinating conversation.

Perry Holley:    That was good. I’m taking notes over here.

Chris Goede:     All right, I’m done. That’s all I got for today.

Perry Holley:    You want to do your solo now?

Chris Goede:     No, I do not.

Perry Holley:    All right. Well, thank you, Chris. A great conversation. As a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about the 5 Levels, 360 Leader, about our virtual or in-person workshops, you can find that out at You can also leave a comment or a question for us there. We always love hearing from you, and we’re always grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell executive leadership podcast.

Be the first to comment on "Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #126: Moving From Soloist to Conductor: A Leader’s First Challenge"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *